He has one of the most iconic voices in rock and roll. Like Steven Tyler, Ronnie James Dio and Robert Plant, Great White’s Jack Russell has a signature style and sound that is readily identifiable to even most casual fans.
The founding vocalist of Sunset Strip legends, Great White, Russell found his life up-ended, (of his own doing, he is quick to point out), by the substance use and abuses he has put his body through over the years. This led to health so poor, Russell was eventually hospitalized with a perforated bowel and sepsis. He could have lost his life. His longtime friend, Jani Lane (Warrant), who graciously took his place on some Great White shows while he was ill, was not as fortunate as Jack. When Russell was released from the hospital he got the news that Jani had died from acute alcohol poisoning. For Russell, that tragedy was the final kick in the ass he needed to get his own life in order.
“That was definitely the deciding factor for me. When Jani passed away it was like ‘wow this can happen’. It’s not one of those things that happens to everybody else but you. I realized how close I was to losing my life at many points in the last couple of years due to various things–illnesses and what not. And I just thought it’s really time to get it together. If not now, when, you know? And my wife, God bless her, she was doing what she can to keep me together, and fortunately it paid off. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Things are going swimmingly. So I’m just damn glad to be here as they say. You know, I count my blessings every day, and if it wasn’t for my lovely wife and a gracious God, I wouldn’t be here. I’m figuring there’s something left for me to do, so hopefully I’ll be a while in finishing it.”
While Russell was recovering, longtime partner and fellow band founder, guitarist Mark Kendall, along with the rest of the Great White band basically dropped the singer overboard and pirated the band name. They added former XYZ vocalist Terry Ilous to take his place. Russell filed suit in March this year, with Kendall and longtime band members Michael Lardie (keyboard/guitar) and Audie Desbrow (drums) filing a counterclaim. Like so many other typical band break-ups, there is blood in the water, but only the sharks (we mean lawyers) will win. Unlike similar situations in other bands, because of the very distinctive signature of Russell’s voice (aside from any legal reasons) one simply cannot replace him and call it Great White. Mark Kendall is a wonderful guitarist, but a thousand others could play his licks: No one sounds like Russell, not even they highly talented Ilous.
“I’ve been very, very blessed that I wake up every single day and go (Jack sings a few notes) , okay, it’s still there. After 51-years-old, going on 52, I’m still feeling really well, and my voice feels really good. I’ve lost a couple of super high notes that the dogs can barely hear but other than that it’s all there. And more often than not it works well for me. So I’m really happy. I’m just happy that after everything I’ve been through to be able to perform and do my things, and have people come out and enjoy the shows. There’s been so many people in the last year since I came back that have been so happy and so overwhelmingly supportive. It just brings me to tears sometimes. I’m just very fortunate and very lucky to have fans like that. That’s the thing that’s the great gift for us entertainers is the fan thing–the appreciation of what we do and how we make them feel with our music, or how I make somebody feel with my voice when I’m singing. That’s the real gift.”
Russell admits that’s he’s had a pretty special life: “I’ve lived 10 lives in one.” The singer revealed that he and his people are currently writing a book about his journey. The next step in that journey is moving forward with a new version of Great White, touring and creating new music. Next year Jack hopes to release a new Great White album and I asked him what it will be like to do so without his old partner, Mark Kendall, writing with him.
“It’s always gonna sound like Great White through the fact that I’m singing. The style of music’s going to remain the same since I’m heavily involved in the writing. And my guitarist that I write primarily with, Matthew Johnson, we did an album called “Shelter Me”, back in 1996 which was my first solo album. And it could have been a Great White album for all intents and purposes. I mean, I go back and listen to it. and go ‘God that could have been on one of or albums.’ So it’s not going to change stylistically too much. I think if anything it’s going to show a growth from where we were at on our last album. It’s definitely going to be a lot more rocking. I think we were getting a little sedate on the last few albums I did with the band. There was some really great stuff on ’em, don’t get me wrong, and I still love the records, but I wish we hated waited around a little longer until we came up with some more rocking songs.”
During the conversation I asked if he had considered re-recording any of the band’s classic material with the new line-up. He said he hadn’t, but that he thinks it would be a great idea, and admitted he had chatted with former Great White bassist Tony Montana about playing some of the old material. So heads up fans, you could soon be hearing classic Great White with a new coat of paint.
You can listen to our entire interview with Jack below as he talks about Led Zeppelin and shares his favorite Zep album, offers us his favorite Jani Lane story, his big fish story, and talks about the new concert video the band will be recording on December 20, which will be offered free as a download online.